Whether you’re a business owner installing lawn signage or digging in your own backyard, you never know what lies beneath the surface. Tasks such as landscaping, structure installation or any other project that requires digging can easily interfere with a utility line that lies underground.
The tricky part is that oftentimes these lines are not marked, leaving residents and building owners guessing where they can dig. The good news is even with underground utility lines, you can still complete your digging project by calling 811 to learn where, exactly, lines are on your property.
What Are Your Risks When Digging?
An underground utility line is damaged every six minutes because someone dug without notifying utility operators. Digging without notifying the proper officials can lead to serious dangers and damages, and unintended costs.
Some projects that may require digging include:
- Gardening, planting and landscaping
- Community deck or patio installation
- Building signage
- Benches or other outdoor structures
If you decide to dig without notifying officials, there is a chance you will run into a utility line and cause service interruption and utility line damage, which can lead to heavy fines.
It’s also important to consider the dangers of hitting utility lines. Many of these lines are gas and water lines. Should they break or leak from repeated damage, you run the risk of serious dangers to your home and family.
What is 811?
811 is the national “Call Before You Dig” phone number. This federal line is free for residents and tenants to call before conducting any sort of digging project on their property.
When you call 811 and alert state officials of your project, they can then work with you to coordinate safe places within your property to dig and help you learn about the dangers of running into utility lines.
In most states, you are legally required to call 811 before any type of digging project. There are more than 100 billion square feet of underground utility lines in the U.S., which means most property owners are at risk.
What to Expect After Calling 811
Once you call 811, local crews and officials will travel to your digging site to mark boundaries and where utility lines are on your property. This is usually done with flags or paint.
Property owners should allow at least two to three days for all impacted utility operators to respond to their inquiry. It’s common for seven to eight operators to be notified of each request.
There may be multiple markers in one place. This is because the depths of utility lines could vary and overlap with one another, which is another reason why it’s crucial to call 811 before any kind of digging project no matter how deep.
Safety When Digging
Even though all of your utility lines may be marked, it’s best practice to dig around the markings rather than on top of them. Many utility lines sit at a very shallow depth in the ground, which means one push of a shovel can cause serious utility damage.
Utility lines may also shift their location. Erosion and plant root growth can move many lines over from their original location. So, even if you had your lines marked once before, it’s always safer to have them remarked each time you need to dig.